Speaker Bio – Simon Dowling

Simon Dowling

Simon Dowling

Managing Director, 2engage

Simon is a fan of great teamwork. He loves seeing teams discovery their special energy and flow.
He also loves the idea of getting whole workplaces to operate like one big team – a socially nimble force to be reckoned with. Not just because it feels good, but because it’s essential to playing the long game.
As a leadership coach, Simon works closely with teams and leaders to help them find what he calls their ‘collaborative edge’. As an occasional improviser and actor, Simon’s had the privilege of collaborating on stage with some amazing performers who are the walking embodiment of team work. (Oh, and as a one-time lawyer, Simon wishes he’d worked in a firm where collaboration happened a bit more easily.)


Workplace ‘sans frontières’

Why highly connected organisations have the edge… and how you can get it too

Overview of topic and themes

When organisations are small, collaboration is easy. If everyone grabs their morning coffee in the same tea room, has their lunch around the same table, has their weekly meeting around a single photocopier, then collaboration is easy. But as organisations grow, its people gather into natural clusters. As those clusters become more concrete, people become less connected to one another. Divides and boundaries begin to form. Cooperation becomes harder, and collaboration harder still. In some cases, these clusters become self-preserving silos or fiefdoms.

This challenge is compounded by the fact that many workplaces and teams are enjoying greater levels of autonomy and freedom than ever before – as organisations attempt to move away from the traditional organisational management approaches of ‘command and control’. That autonomy may free teams up to be more experimental and innovative in the way they go about their work, but it can make it even harder to convince those teams to lift their heads up and look beyond their own backyard.

As a result, many organisations are discovering that one of their greatest challenges is creating an environment where people and teams are highly connected with one another and, as a result, much better placed to cooperate and collaborate with one another.

In fact, research conducted by the Centre for Creative Leadership revealed that, of the 128 senior executives surveyed, 86% felt it was “extremely important” for them to collaborate across boundaries as leaders. But of that 86%, only 7% rated themselves as “very effective” at doing so. This represents a big gap on something so important.

The questions at play

Any organisation with large numbers of people, multiple teams, multiple layers of management, multiple locations or multiple product lines will inevitably face some or all of the following questions:

  • How do we get people to work across the natural clusters that form in any organisation and often result in silos (examples of those clusters include functional clusters, demographic clusters, geographic clusters and hierarchical clusters)?
  • How do we tap the diversity of people we have in this organisation and ensure the environment is inclusive?
  • How do we get people to pool their knowledge and ideas?
  • How do we build a cohesive culture that permeates all parts of our business?
  • How do we include those who work remotely, or who are working with us on short termcontracts?
  • How do we ensure a consistent customer experience across all parts of our business?
  • Howdoweidentifyopportunitiesandchallengesfaster,andthencometogetherto innovate?

Creating a workplace sans frontières

Clusters and boundaries will always exist in organisations. In fact, it’s critical that leaders help people to identify, acknowledge and validate them.

Therefore, the challenge is not to eliminate boundaries, just as Medicins sans Frontières doesn’t seek to eliminate borders. Rather the challenge is to build an organisation that is able to cut across the different clusters – where people don’t simply think down (focused on their own teams) or outwards (their customer), but also think up (the big picture) and across (into other teams).